To get to where he is now, Oregon senior defensive end Dion Jordan needed a little help.
Help from his family, who he calls “my backbone.”
Help from the doctors who treated him after he was almost burned to death in 2008, the result of a freak accident in a friend’s garage during his senior season at Chandler (Ariz.) High School.
Help from teammates, including former Oregon defensive lineman Zac Clark, a Wichita North High School and Butler Community College product who was Jordan’s roommate on road trips in 2010 as the Ducks made a run to the BCS title game.
“Zac helped teach me how to be a leader,” said Jordan, a two-time All-Pac 12 selection. “He took care of me, took care of all the young guys. A tremendous teammate.”
And when Jordan takes the field on Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State, he’ll take all of that — all of the support and love and lessons — and try to turn it into a memorable final performance. One befitting a player Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti nicknamed “The Praying Mantis” because of his freakish athletic gifts – Jordan is 6-foot-7, 243 pounds, runs a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and is projected as a first-round pick in next April’s NFL Draft.
“We all have our stories, and it’s not always pretty ... isn’t always beautiful but you find the people that are on your side and support you and you keep moving forward,” Jordan said. “I’ve learned a lot of things, good and bad, from playing ball.”
It’s tough to imagine a future where Jordan hasn’t already made it through the bad.
He was born in San Francisco and lived in the Bay Area until junior high school, when the family moved to Arizona and he began to develop a love for football.
“I found the thing I could excel at,” Jordan said. “I found football and that was it for me.”
He turned into a star at Chandler, and was a four-star recruit and ranked the No. 10 tight end in the country by his senior year. The night of the accident that would change his life, he had one of the best games of his high-school career — six catches for 124 yards and one touchdown in a win over Gilbert Highland.
Later that night, in a friend’s garage, Jordan and a group of friends were trying to siphon gas from a vehicle using a vacuum cleaner. They decided to take a break and when Jordan went to turn the vacuum off, it exploded and engulfed him in flames. Jordan had second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body and was airlifted to a hospital.
Jordan was in the hospital for almost six weeks, needed multiple skin grafts to his legs arms and hands and had to relearn how to walk ... but he would still be able to play football.
“It’s hard not to think about that night because I’ve got scars on my body that will be there forever,” Jordan said. “That was a bad time in my life with me being a senior and highly recruited and halfway through my last season. You’re young and you have so many ambitions and hopes .. then the next morning you’re in the hospital and pretty much starting over. My mom, though, she never left me the entire time I was there. It was amazing.”
Jordan redshirted at Oregon in 2008 and was the scout team’s tight end — possibly the most grateful scout-team player in the history of Duck football.
“It was wonderful,” Jordan said. “I had to work hard, but I got to be around some of the best players I’ve ever seen, guys like LaMichael James and Darron Thomas ... even (Kansas State wide receiver) Chris Harper was part of my recruiting class.”
Jordan was a backup tight end and special teams player in 2009 and got to play in the Rose Bowl. As he continued to put on muscle, Oregon’s coaches decided to move him to defense, where he was the top backup on the defensive line in 2010 as the Ducks rolled through the regular season and into the BCS title game against Auburn.
“The thing you could tell about Dion was that he really wanted it, he wanted to be great,” said Clark, who was an honorable mention All-Pac 10 pick in 2010 and is now an assistant coach at Butler. “He’s always been a freak, athletically, but now that he’s put on the weight he’s got that combination of height and athleticism that makes him a stud.”
The Ducks lost to Auburn on a last-second field goal.
“It was a tremendous experience, but it kind of ruins it when you lose,” Jordan said.
He led Oregon with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a junior and helped lead the Ducks to a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. This season, he has a career-high 44 tackles along with 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. He will likely be the first Oregon player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2008.
“I don’t really dig too deep into (draft projections),” Jordan said. “To be recognized with some really good players out there is kind of the first step, but when you get to the next level it’s about performing and showing teams what you can do for them. I’m excited for that opportunity.”
Jordan could have an epic battle on his hands in the Fiesta Bowl when he matches up with Kansas State offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas, a 6-foot-9, 324-pound All-Big 12 selection.
“Kansas State has some wonderful players on the offensive side of the ball, and that all starts with Collin Klein,” Jordan said. “He seems to always make big plays and he really does a good job of making the guys around him better in a big way.”